The Fauntleroy rage began in 1885-86 after the publication of Mrs.
Burnett's s famous book. Fancy velvet suits for boys began appearing
in the early 1880s, but did not begin to take its final form in
the popular mind until the population of Mrs Burnett's book Little
Lord Fauntleroy in 1885-86. Families in the late 19th Century were often quite large. Mothers enamored with the Fauntleroy style had the decission to make of how to dress all of the children. The mothers of the day adopted all sorts of alternatives from identical or coordinated outfits for all children to completely different outfits for each child. The alternatives were further complicated by
the need to breech boys as they got older and related choices on hair styles
Figure 2.--Fauntleroy suits were also worn with bodice skirts and Scotch plaid kilts like these brothers. Note the large lace-trimed blouses covering much of the velvet jacket. The only difference between their outfits are their bows.
Many mothers liked the idea of identical styles, although many practicalities
as well as gender differences often meant that many differnt forms of identical
Some mothers were quite insistent on identical styles for the entire family.
This usually was not possible with Fauntleroy suits as while a velvet Fauntleroy
suit was de rigor for a fashionable boys' party suit, a black velvet dress,
while commonly worn by girls, was not nearly as prevalent because girls had so many
more options. Thus when mothers decided on identical styles, often the only viable option
were smocks--a popular choice for well to do families. This alternative was
less common for working class families.
The most common type of identical dressing was of course twins. The number of
existing images show that mothers just loved to dress their twin sons, especially
identical twins, but also fratenal twins, in identical Fauntleroy suits. The
fact that twins were the same age avoided complications such as age-appripriate
breeching and hair cuts as all of this could be done at the same time for both
boys. The same would of course be true for other multiples, but this was much
rarer in the 19th Century.
Fraternal twins are a bit more complicated. If they were both boys, they could be treated like identical twins. I am not sure how mothers approached the clothing for fraternal twins of different genders.
Figure 3.--These two brothers wear identical Fauntleroy suits with emaculate lace collars and large bows. The older brother looks to be about 12 years old. Clearly their mother liked to dress them identically.
Mothers also liked to dress brothers in identical Fauntleroy suits, even if they were not
twins. This involved, however, some difficult decisssions. It was fairly simple
if both boys were about the same age. If several years separated their
birth it was more complicated. Their mother had to decide to either dress the
younger boy more maturely or the over boy in more juvenile styles.
The first two difficult decissions were breeching and hair styles:
Breeching: Boys in the 19th Century generally wore dresses while young. There were generally, however, substnatial differences between families atb what age this was done. The most cimmon age was was about 4-5 years, but some mothers decided to breech their sons earlier or later. The Fauntleroy suit offered some flexibility in this area as the jacket and blouse could be worn with either kneepants, skirt, or even a plaid Scottish kilt. Thus the older boy could be breeched and the younger boy left in skirts, while both kept wearing the same lace collar, blouse, and velvet jacket. Of course nothing would dtop the younger brother from complaining about being left in skirts or kilts while his older brother wore more mature looking kneepants. Another unknown factor is while a boy graduating from skirts to kneepants would be unlikely to wear his Fauntlrou jacket with a skirt again, a mother might use both kneepants and Scotish kilts for different occasions.
Figure 4.--These three brothers, despite the differences in ages, wear identical Fauntleroy suits with black stockings. Note the buttons at the hem of the knee pants.
The alternatives were more complicated when deciding how to dress brothers and
sisters. As mentioned above smocks were one alternative, although this the smock
was an informal garment for play wear or around the house. The same was true for
pinafores which by the 1880s were becoming less common for American and
British boys. Mothers might dressesd thecfirst few mixed gender siblings identically,
but by the time their sons reached the age of 5 or 6, this became less common.
Figure 5.--These brothers, despite their age were dressed identically. Many families at the time would not yet have breeched the younger boy and kept him in dresses. He does wear a small open jacket to show his fancy blouse while his brother wears a closed jacket.
One alternative was to dress the boys in Fauntleroy suits, skirts for the younger boys and kneepants for the older boys and velvet dresses for the girls. Dresses were more common for girls than the jacket and skirt dresses often worn by young boys. Yonger boys also often wore full dresses. Such Fauntleroy coordinated outfits, however, do not appear to have been a popular family style, at leasrt there appear to be relatively few images confirming families were dressed this way. Perhaps the Fauntleroy style, while too fancy for the boys was not fancy enough for the girls.
Figure 5.--The sisters of the boys above were outfitted in white dresses rather than coordinated velvelt dresses. Frilly white dresses were very popular for girls at the time.
The more common option was to outfit the boys in Fauntleroy suits and the girls
in dresses, often white dresses to contrast with the black or dark colored velvet
of the their brothers' suits. White dresses loaded with lace and ruffkled flounces
were very popular in the latec19th Century. A younger brother might even wear one of
these fancy drsses, as it was very common in large families to wear hand me downs.
Noteably it was not until the 1880s that dresses specifically designed for
boys appeared. Many dresses were identified as children's dresses meaning that
both boys and girls could wear them. Beginning in the 1880s one begins to
see dresses identified as boys' dresses in the fashion magazines and catalogs.
Often mothers dressed their sons identically or similarly, but then introduced
minor difference. Some of these differences are inexplicable. Usually they
were small touches to recognize the elevated status of the older sibling. These
differences might include the following as well a a huge variery of
Skirts/knee pants: The major difference was of course whether a boys wore skirts or the more mature kneepants.
Hair styles: One very common difference was cutting the curls of the older boys. Many written accounts indicate that often boys objected to wearing curls and the bother every night with rolling ringlets than wearing the fancy Fauntleroy suit and lace collar.
Collar: Many mothers allowed older boys to substitute lace collars with wide white rounded collars or even Eton collars. Again written accounts suggest that the part of the Fauntleroy suit that was most unpopular with boys was the fancy lace or fruffled collar.
Blouses: The yonger boys most commonly wore the fancy lace trimmed blouses with small open jackets. Older brothers might more commonly wear closed jackets.
Bow: A large floppy bow was an important element of many Fauntleroy suits. Often older boys were alloswed to wear smaller bows or in somd cases no bow at all.
Hats: Younger boys often wore wide-brimmed sailor hats with their Fauntleroy suits. Older boys were often allowed to wear sailor hats with smaller brims or other styles of hats.
Other: There were many other differences, some very small, among the Fauntleroy suits worn by brothers. I will add the more important ones here as I become aware of them.
Figure 5.--These two English brothers pictured in the 1890s show the clear age differention in dress. The older boy is wearing his Eton suit school uniform. The younger boy who has not yet been set off to boarding school wears a Fauntleroy suit.
Some parents dressed their children completely differently. Based on the available
photographic images, however, this alternative was less common than some
attempt to coordinate their outfits. More common of course were differences
steming from the different ages of the children. The divide in ages was often particularly
noticdeable in England. The modern age destinctions between different age groups
were becoming increasuinglty fixed in the 1880s. Boys would be sent off to their
boarding preparatory schools at about 8 years of age. It was at that age that boys
stped wearing sailor suits, Fauntleroy suits, and kilts and would have their hair cut short. The fancy styles were quite common for younger boys and quite rare for older boys. Similar patterns existed in other countries, but the dividing points were usually not as noticeable because it was not as common to send boys to boarding schools.
Long after the Fauntleoy suit had passed from the fashion scene, mothers have
loved to dress their children in identical, or coordinated brother-brother,
'sister-sister, and brother-sister outfits. Usually, but not always, this meant
younger brothers and older sisters.
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